Photo by Bill Garman/ISD
Notre Dame Football

New and Old Faces Emerging For Notre Dame

August 29, 2019
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Notre Dame will play its first game in program history on a Labor Day Monday as the Fighting Irish look to return to the College Football Playoff.
 
The Irish are no stranger to starting the season off with the nation’s attention with the program holding a 13-4 all-time record in season-opening prime time games.
 
Brian Kelly’s team doesn’t lack experience, but they will break in some key new faces Monday night in Louisville and while all eyes will definitely be on the linebacker position, sophomore receiver Lawrence Keys III enters the game with plenty of intrigue.
 
The speedy receiver from New Orleans didn’t see action last fall and will make his first start on Monday as fellow Louisiana native Michael Young Jr. is out with a broken collarbone. Keys has impressed just about everyone who has seen him since the spring, including Kelly.
 
“He started to come on in the spring, showed some consistency in performance,” stated Kelly. “I think assignment correct has been another thing that he's really worked on. We need to rely on players, as well, that we know they're going to be there and line up the right way, be relied on that they're going to be accountable. He's been really accountable in all those areas.” 

Rick Kimball/ISD
WR Lawrence Keys III

While Keys doesn’t lack speed, the 5-foot-10, 173-pounder needed to focus on his weight to get on the field and he’s done just that over the last eight months.
 
“We were able to add some sandbags to his pockets, put on a little weight,” laughed Kelly. “We felt like he needed to be sturdier physically. He did a great job in the off-season of really attending to that. He's kept his weight on.”
 
What can Notre Dame fans expect from Keys? Well, it starts with his speed and route running. Keys is advanced for most sophomores in his route running as he’s able to get in and out of his breaks with ease. It’s also been evident during fall camp that Keys understands leverage and how to get open against press coverage.
 
However, Keys’ catching ability has impressed the coaching staff the most.
 
“Everybody can see that when he touches the ball, he's got great speed,” Kelly explained. “One of the things that he does that's a little bit different than all of our guys is that he catches the ball at full speed. Some guys have to throttle down a little bit. He can catch it at full speed. That's a great trait to have.” 
 
At linebacker, Te’von Coney and Drue Tranquill are gone and that’s left an open void in the middle of Notre Dame’s defense. If you thought the coaching carousel was crazy at the end of the season, you would be completely lost watching the rotation of linebackers during a Notre Dame practice.
 
Asmar Bilal (GS) and Drew White (RS-Soph) will get the starting nod on Monday, but there will be a heavy rotation with Jordan Genmark Heath, Jack Lamb and Shayne Simon.
 
While most would likely prefer a set starting group, Kelly seemed comfortable in how they planned to use the linebacker depth in week one.
 
“I still think we're in a position where they got to go play in a live game for us to really continue this process of solidifying rotation and finding those guys,” said Kelly. “I think you're going to see Drew and Asmar probably starting the game.
 
“You see a lot of guys. We think they're all capable. They've all done really good things. The arrows are up on all of those guys. They've all made significant progress and have done the things we've wanted them to do. They've earned playing time. We'll see how it goes.” 
 
Notre Dame could likely bring on a combination of Genmark Heath, Lamb, and Simon on third down, but that’s from a limited sampling of four full practice viewings. 
 
“There are different packages,” Kelly stated. “You're going to be able to see as the game unfolds where they fit in these different packages we'll run. Then we'll see how that kind of plays out in our evaluation over the next couple games.” 
 
Kelly was also quick to point out White might have a tag of being a run stopper as he made his Notre Dame debut against Navy last fall, but the Florida native has also come a long way in the passing game. 
 
“I would be careful to pigeonhole him as a plug run guy,” explained Kelly. “I don't know that we can play a guy that is a liability in the other areas because he's not. He can get out and cover the back. He's got a good sense in the passing game. He's just been more effective, but not to the level where he's walking around going, I'm the starter from here on out. It's a very competitive situation.” 
 
Notre Dame got a big boost in January when Khalid Kareem and Julian Okwara decided to return for their senior seasons. It not only gave Notre Dame weapons, but quite possibly one of the best defensive lines in college football. 
 
Both will get a good test on Monday as Louisville left tackle Mekhi Becton, who is 6-foot-7, 365 pounds and Kelly expects his defensive ends to set the tone on Monday.
 
“We've worked really hard at developing our defensive line,” Kelly said. “We hope they have an impact in the game. If they don't, Louisville is pretty good. I know our guys are pretty good.
 
 “We're going to do what we do. I'm certain they know that we've got some pretty good players. As I mentioned, their left tackle is going to play in the NFL. I don't want to assume anything, but maybe he's going to be on his own and they're going to help some others.
 
“At the end of the day, our defensive line has to exert itself. That's one of our strengths. They're going to have to play at a high level.” 
 
Kareem and Okwara will have the headlines, but Kelly made sure to note the defensive depth is as good as it has ever been at Notre Dame and it starts with a player no one is talking about heading into the year. 
 
“I'll just leave it at this. One guy that we haven't talked much about, and I will just say that he's had his best camp since he's been here is Daelin Hayes (pictured). 

“I think that says a lot about what we can do when we haven't talked about a guy like that.” 

 
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